Chronicling Carolina

QNotes documents LGBT history in 25 years of community service

The story of qnotes’ history is about more than its own achievements; it’s about the community — the people, places and pride of the past 25 years of Carolinas history. People like community leader and qnotes’ first editor Don King, whose Closet Buster Productions helped to herald new eras of LGBT awareness and public engagement in Charlotte. Places like Charlotte’s Lesbian & Gay Community Center or Raleigh’s LGBT Center and the decades long push for community organizing for spaces to call all our own. Pride, like the series of statewide and local Pride festivals and parades that have grown and spread like wild kudzu across the state since 1981.

qnotes and its sister paper, The Front Page, with which it merged in 2006, have documented these events and more. The pages of the voluminous, dusty and yellowed archives of these two papers and their predecessors tell a remarkable story of courage and conviction, oppression and prejudice, perseverance and triumph.

The Front Page, which began publication in 1979, provided some of the best LGBT-inclusive reporting on the earliest days of the AIDS Crisis. Before it, Charlotte’s Free Press served Carolina LGBT communities when they started up in 1975. Students, too, have played key roles in LGBT journalism in our state. Students at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill established their Lambda, a publication still in print today, in 1974. Other LGBT publications devoted to entertainment and nightlife have dotted the Carolina LGBT media scene in decades past, as well.

But, this May 14, 2011, print issue of qnotes — which marks a total of 25 years of continuous and uninterrupted publication — provides a chance to reflect upon our history. Naturally, a newspaper’s history is part-and-parcel of the communities it chronicles. So, while qnotes look inward, we’re forced to look out and, once more, tell the stories of the people whose dreams, passions, hard work and determination have culminated in proud LGBT communities both small and large across the Carolinas.

And so it began

In 1969, the gay rights movement came out of the closet in full force. Demonstrations at New York City’s Stonewall Inn sparked action, protest and advocacy in communities both small and large. The Carolinas weren’t immune.

Two years after the historic Stonewall Riots, North Carolina native Bob Bland moved back to his home state from New York and founded the Triangle Gay Alliance. He and others rented a home for the group, which acted as an early social, activism and support organization for LGBT people across the state. Years later, Bland’s Triangle Gay Alliance and the de facto community center they established would serve as inspiration for activists who issued calls for a similar space in Charlotte.

The Triangle Alliance was just the beginning. LGBT community members, and especially students, began to organize at a dizzying clip. Maintaining a flow of communication and providing a space for LGBT news and commentary became important. In 1975, North Carolina’s first gay newspaper, The Free Press, was founded in Charlotte. Lambda, the newsletter of the Carolina Gay Association at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, followed just a year later. Both publications set the stage for a blossoming LGBT media environment, though The Free Press closed shop just four years later.

Major events in our history
Key events and happenings throughout qnotes
25-year history.

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September 1983 — qnotes is founded in its first incarnation as a monthly newsletter of the non-profit Queen City Quordinators.

October 1983 — The newsletter reports on the first case of AIDS in Charlotte.

June 1986 — Queen City Quordinators establishes qnotes as a monthly print newspaper.

January 1987 — In an editorial, qnotes editor Don King makes one of the first public calls for a community center in Charlotte. His call goes unanswered until the establishment of the Lesbian & Gay Community Center of Charlotte in 2000.

May 1988 — qnotes is published using a desktop publishing system for the first time.

July 15, 1988 — The board of Queen City Quordinators votes to dissolve the organization and authorizes qnotes to begin operating independently under the for-profit umbrella of the Charlotte Advocacy Network, Inc. (C.A.N., Inc.).

December 1989 — qnotes is bought by current publisher Jim Yarbrough.

May 9, 1993 — Former editor Richard Epson Nelms succumbs to AIDS while living in Greensboro.

June 1, 1996 — qnotes begins publishing bi-weekly at its 10th anniversary.

September 2002 — Former editor Dan Kirsch is hired as the first executive director of the Lesbian & Gay Community Center of Charlotte.

May 2006 — qnotes and The Front Page announce a merger at qnotes’ 20th anniversary.

January 2010 — qnotes rebrands, dropping the dash from its name and promoting a new website,
goqnotes.com.

“When that folded, there was nothing, really,” former Front Page publisher Jim Baxter told qnotes in 2006. “Art [Sperry] and I talked a lot for several years about how change might happen for the gay community in North Carolina. We agreed a statewide effort would be needed. In order for that to happen some dependable mans of statewide communication would be needed. That’s how The Front Page got started.”

That same need for communication and organizing sparked qnotes’ original birth as a newsletter of Queen City Quordinators (QCQ), a fundraising organization begun in 1981 by Don King and lesbian activist Billie Stickell. The newsletter — a four-page leaflet printed on copy paper — debuted in September 1983.

QCQ continued the newsletter’s publication for the next two years, though a lack of volunteer manpower put the publication on the skids.

In 1986, however, QCQ revived qnotes. It morphed into a monthly tabloid newspaper and King was brought on as the first editor.

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Growth and change

Over the next few years, qnotes would continue to grow, even as it faced challenges.

In the fall of 1987, staff changes nearly led to qnotes’ shuttering. Four QCQ members — Dean Gaskey, Joel Smith, Robert Sheets and current publisher Jim Yabrough — kept it going and operation of the paper was transferred to the non-profit Charlotte Advocacy Network. Soon thereafter, QCQ folded.

qnotes expanded its circulation and news coverage, extending out of the Charlotte area and across the entire Carolinas region. In December 1989, Yarbrough purchased the rights to the publication.

For a time, Yabrough operated the paper as a side business. He and a few close friends published it from his apartment. Eventually, the paper came to sustain itself; qnotes moved into its first office and Yabrough began operating the paper full-time. By June 1986, the decade-old publication had upped its publishing frequency from monthly to every-other-week. In 1998, qnotes took the plunge into new internet waters.

In 2006, the now-20-year-old qnotes took a giant leap forward. Yarbrough and Front Page publisher Jim Baxter merged their operations. At the time, Yarbrough described the merger as beneficial to the papers and readers.

“We’re very excited about this accomplishment,” he told then-editor David Moore. “We’ve talked about doing it for years and it finally seemed like the time was right. This is great for readers across the Carolinas because of the new content we’ll be carrying and for the advertisers because of an expanded distribution base and our subscription service.”

Challenges ahead

qnotes’ merger with The Front Page represented a new era in Carolina LGBT media, bridging the gap between Charlotte’s and Raleigh’s communities, and those in between, with a single news and entertainment resource.

Big changes and challenges, unforeseen at the time, sat upon the horizon. News publishing companies both large and small began to feel the heat from increased competition from digital news and entertainment sources. A new platform for news delivery and consumption was on the way.

The internet had seen phenomenal growth throughout the 1990s. By 2000, 31 percent of those living in the developed world had access. In 2004, access had grown to 54 percent. In the background, upstart journalists, amateur commentators and part-time news analysts harnessed the power of the ‘net and the growing blogosphere. Websites that had started operation under the control of a lone blogger began to grow into influential news and opinion leaders.

As the new century’s first decade came to a close, the news industry was also hit by the burden of an economic recession. Declining ad revenues and rising debt shuttered many a print publications’ doors. Even LGBT media felt the impact, losing — at least for a time — the Washington Blade and Atlanta’s Southern Voice, among other publications. Staffers in D.C. and Atlanta have since given birth to new and successful incarnations of their former publications.

In the Carolinas, however, qnotes remained vigilant. Though not immune to the economic difficulties and upheavals in the media market, the publication continued its bi-weekly print schedule. In 2009, it revamped its website in an effort to embrace new technologies, grow readers and expand timely, relevant and in-depth news and entertainment coverage across the Carolinas. Staff continue their commitment to bringing news and entertainment to readers across various platforms and to growing a new, 21st-century publication that leaves room for a traditional print newspaper and online presence to compliment each other.

Looking toward a bright future

Transitions in media consumption and new economic realities have changed qnotes and other news publications. Yet, despite these challanges, the publication is still here and still fulfilling the same mission laid at its feet a quarter century ago.

What does the future hold for qnotes? As new readers find new ways to interact with the publication, qnotes will continue to adapt and meet the community where it is. If there’s one thing most newspapers, and especially qnotes, have proven, it’s that we’re a hearty, persevering bunch. For 25 years, qnotes has served our communities with diligence and care, and we’re looking forward to continuing that proud tradition for years and years to come. : :

— Compiled by Matt Comer from staff reports, interviews, archives and other historic documents.

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.